The state Parks and Recreation Commission has awarded a five-year concession contract to Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Washington.

The new agreement, which was struck following a competitive bid process, allows Coke to immediately install and operate full-service soft-drink vending machines at most of the agency’s 125 state parks.

In exchange for exclusive vending rights, Coke will pay the state an estimated $60,000 annually in commissions. The total value of the contract, including marketing support and other benefits, is estimated at $2.1 million. Commission rates will be renegotiated after sales history is established from the first two years of operation.

The agreement will generate additional cash flow for the parks system, which receives an estimated 51 million visits a year. Nationally, it ranks third in day-use attendance and seventh in overnight attendance but 49th in state budget expenditure per visitor. Admittance fees are not charged in state parks.

“The association with Coke will help increase revenues from camping and other services,” State Parks Enterprise Coordinator Tom Oliva says.

He says marketing campaigns stimulate camping and help fill state park lodges and conference centers during slow seasons.

Parks Director Cleve Pinnix says the agency was responsive to public concern that any vending machines placed in parks harmonize with the rustic settings. The customized front of the new machines features an illuminated outline of a clear Coke bottle in a green forest setting, rather than Coke’s standard bright red, larger-than-life Coke can.

“We want to provide an additional customer service without detracting from the tranquility of our state parks,” Pinnix says.

Agency research suggests the new service will be popular. A recent study by Washington State University indicates that 59 percent of park visitors support having places in parks to purchase soft-drinks and packaged snacks.

By Kamilla K. McClelland, Business Examiner staff